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Thursday
Oct232003

Neuromancer

Late last night I finally finished William Gibson's Neuromancer, so I thought it would be good to post about it, while the story and my comments were still fresh in my mind. Of course, as I mentioned before, I am probably the last tech geek on earth to have read Neuromancer (released in 1984) so I felt a little guilt for not having read it earlier. Well, I am happy to say that I can now claim to have read Neuromancer.

In a nutshell, the story is about a washed up high-flying hacker named Case, who lives in Japan, in a place called Chiba City. There he, along with the other dregs of his futuristic society, eke out existences and fill their addictions, remembering better days. Case was caught embezzling funds on his last hacking job and had his neural brain networks purposefully damaged as a retribution. Through some odd situations, Case is hired to do a hacking job in exchange for his neural network being restored. The story follows Case, and several other characters as they prepare to complete the mission they were hired to do, complete with surprises and plot twists.

I mostly liked Neuromancer. I say mostly, because I felt like I could just barely follow the story-line. There were so many twists and turns in the plot that I often felt a bit lost. In this book, Gibson has a tendency to use rapid scene transitions without any setup or warning, suddenly switching between the real world and the virtual network world that Case experiences. This rapid scene switching combined with a complex plot and the dense description of the future world all combined to keep me constantly on the edge. I felt like someone clinging to the guardrail on the caboose of a speeding freight train. Maybe a second reading would resolve some of these issues for me.

As for the futuristic society, it was hard for me to follow fully. Gibson is envisioning a wild sprawling new world where the east coast is one big sprawling city, with no real borders. I must prefer present day modern society or something, because I found myself having trouble envisioning his future world. In this sense I enjoyed Pattern Recognition much more than Neuromancer, because it felt like today's world with some twists. Maybe that's a bit of my love for travel writing and travelogues bobbing to the surface?

Gibson's world of the real and the world of networks is quite interesting when taken in context. Reading Neuromancer in today's context, with the Internet so commonplace, makes it feel somewhat pedestrian. However, when you put Neuromancer into proper context, being released into a world where the first Macintosh was announced during the Superbowl, and PCs had green screens, it must have hit like a ton of bricks. Now I'm a little bummed that I'd missed this book, way back when.

Spoiler Warning: I'm going to invoke the excerpt feature of Moveable Type, so that my comments about the guts of the story won't spoil the book for other interested readers. Continue at your own risk!
I did like many of Gibson's descriptions. For instance, he calls the security systems "ice" which Case and his comrades try to cut through. Gibson was the first to use terns like cyberspace and matrix in relation to computer networks. In fact, I kept feeling that the Matrix (the film) took quite a bit of its ideas from Neuromancer: jacking in to your head port, living in a virtual world called the "Matrix" and even the characters of Case, Molly and Maelcum are reminiscent of the Matrix movie. I can really see how the Wachowski brothers are giving homage to Gibson through the Matrix.

I did really enjoy Dixie (a.k.a. Flatline), the old hacker who had been stored in ROM. The idea of someone's mind being stored like that was just odd and unusual. Like a hall of heads or something. I liked his humor too.

Rivera was a bit weird though, with his ability to create holograms that appeared real. Several times his holos popped up without warning and threw me. In this case I liked being thrown, because it seemed to give me a sense of how the other characters must have felt around Rivera. Funny too that he made a final error with 3Jane's samurai in the end. Ooops.

I'm still not sure about the ending and in particular, about Molly. Why did she have regular eyes re-installed and (I assume) her blades removed? Maybe she had tired of the razor girl lifestyle with its risks and danger? Maybe she needed a break from that life and the reminder of her first love who was lost due to it?

Why did Molly walk away from Case? Did he remind her of her first love, or was she fearful of loving him only to lose him eventually? I guess that means the story hasn't been completely resolved in my mind. All indicators point to a re-read in a year or so. :-)

So, do you Neuromancer readers, who have ventured into this nether-area of spoilers have any comments? Maybe you can clarify some details on the story for me? I'd love to hear from you, if you do.

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